Grand Unification
Issue: Volume: 28 Issue: 1 (Jan 2005)

Grand Unification

That’s not news, nor is it surprising. Adding features is the unabat-ing push in any product revision or upgrade. And for the most part, added functionality has made editors more efficient and productive as they try to remain competitive. Smaller or do-it-yourself video producers working on commercial/industrial/event videos or independent films rarely have a budget line item for motion graphics, compositing, or audio mixing, yet they still must meet client expectations for increasingly high production quality.

Moreover, it’s hard to argue with most integration that has given users more features and options with which to work. Yet, in the proc-ess, “editing” applications have grown in-creasingly complex, and a linear video-editing timeline interface does have limits in terms of how effectively and fluidly it can perform other creative tasks.

The quest for the best of both worlds has now yielded something of a countertrend that looks at integration a little differently and, thankfully, less myopically. After all, efficient work flow can be a highly subjective goal that varies between professionals and their respective needs.

Obviously, some feature integration makes perfect sense. For example, it’s hard to imagine a non-linear video editing interface without a titling or character-generation utility, although the lack of those features was very much the norm a decade ago. Dedicated software, like Inscriber CG and Comet CG, were common additions to Windows-based non-linear workstations. The best integration you might have hoped for in those days was for an editing system vendor to bundle the CG software as a free perk.
Adobe’s Encore DVD has much of Photoshop’s actual code working behind it, allowing users to move seamlessly between the two applications when creating DVD menus.

However, more complicated disciplines, like compositing, audio mixing, and even motion graphics, aren’t as clearly well served by a video editing timeline that is inherently designed to trim and arrange media clips. Built-in functionality may be sufficient for many tasks, but the advanced needs of the more meticulous among us have created a new integration trend.

Instead of stuffing as many functions into a single interface in order to make one product more appealing to prospective users, the industry is now finding ways to have individual products work more efficiently together.

Most notably, Adobe Systems has been working for several years to create a unified “look and feel” to all its creative applications, from Photoshop and Illustrator to Premiere Pro and After Effects. The company has been motivated in part by straight marketing: getting users comfortable with one product so it will be easier for them to learn another and, thus, more likely that they will purchase it than a competitive product. With Adobe’s enormous Photoshop market share, the strategy is solid.

Yet, there’s more to Adobe’s efforts than simply putting its best face on things. Adobe now bundles several products together in genre-specific suites; including the Creative Suite for digital imaging and Video Collection for video and audio creation. While Adobe is not the first company to bundle a couple of applications together under shrink-wrap, Adobe has set something of a standard in the way the products function together.

For video, Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects can share project files as easily as Photoshop and Illustrator have done for years, preserving the project metadata to allow “round trip” edits and updates to the media back and forth between programs. Audition, the audio editing piece of the Video Collection, can also open a Premiere video timeline, and even show a video preview as you make audio changes. After mixing in Audition, changes are seamlessly updated in Premiere. You never have to exit one application in favor of another, nor do you ever need to import or export in any traditional way. It’s a more fluid work flow that doesn’t compromise on tools for any piece of the creative process.

EncoreDVD can similarly maintain Premiere and After Effects project metadata through the DVD authoring process and allow you to launch After Effects directly, make alterations, and have Encore automatically accept the changes. Yet, perhaps the tightest integration is between Photoshop and Encore. With a substantial piece of the Photoshop engine running behind Encore, you can retain Photoshop layers, text, and filters information. You can make minor updates directly from within the Encore interface, or, if the more detailed brushes, palettes, and other design tools of Photoshop are needed, Photoshop can edit Encore menus directly, thereby saving changes and automatically updating them back in Encore.

Avid has followed the same integration model with its XPress Studio, announced last April. Studio bundles five different applications in one shrink-wrapped boxed set. Admittedly, the first version of Studio has interaction only between some of the applications-specifically, you can launch some applications like Pro Tools LE from within the Xpress Pro video editing interface, but others require old-fashioned, less efficient importing and exporting. However, the clear implication in the release of the Studio bundle is that Avid is embracing a similar integration vision and will augment that with future releases.

Apple’s QuickTime yields smooth file transfer between Final Cut Pro, Shake, Motion, and DVD Studio Pro, although there is inherently less metadata shared, and that limits the ability to go back and forth seamlessly. As a whole, the industry is more aggressively supporting metadata “wrappers,” most notably AAF and MXF, as methods of retaining project data among products from several companies.
Avid FX is shown working atop the main Xpress editing interface. This level of data sharing illustrates Avid's integration strategy with other applications in Xpress Studio.

This past spring, after many years of advocacy, manufacturers as diverse as Avid, Microsoft, Quantel, Tektronix, Adobe, and others offered a demonstration of AAF’s potential that involved each company opening the same project file one after another. Each made and saved unique changes, then passed the edited file on to the next vendor, which opened it and made more changes.

That type of integration is the ideal creative solution for larger collaboration. It would allow individuals to work on the equipment of their choice for any given creative task without compromising their ability to move and share digital files. Still, for individual users working on a single desktop, companies like Adobe, Avid, and Apple are establishing some impressive benchmarks for what integration ought to mean.

Jeff Sauer is a contributing editor of Computer Graphics World and director of the Digital Video Group, an independent research and testing organization for digital media. He can be reached at